I love this bread. It’s fast and easy, uses only a few ingredients, and tastes like heaven . . . soft and fluffy inside, crispy and crackly outside, though for this recipe I added a little olive oil and skipped the steam bath in the oven, because as much as I adore that crackly crust, it wasn’t the look I was after.
The recipe makes enough for a large basket, flower decorations, and lots of rolls to fill your basket with. If you just want to make the basket and skip the rolls, cut the recipe in half.
Making the basket really isn’t hard at all. If you’ve ever made a lattice pie crust, you’ve got this! You know, under and over. Under and over. If there are any unattractive spots, cover them with flowers! I made roses for one and daisies and wild flowers for the other, then painted them with colored cream.
This recipe looks intimidating, but that’s just because I had a really hard time explaining the details of weaving with dough, Just look at the pictures; you’ll figure it out!.
Makes a large basket, flower decorations, and enough rolls to fill it to overflowing. If you only want to make the basket, cut the recipe in half! YOU WILL NEED AN OVEN-SAFE BOWL
2½ cups very warm water
2 packages active-dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
6 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
heavy cream and food coloring if desired for flower decorations
Cover the outside of an oven-safe mixing bowl with foil, pressing firmly to smooth out wrinkles. (I used an 8-inch bowl because that was all I had, but a larger one would be great.) For best results, spray foil lightly with a flour/oil baking spray.
In a large bowl (a sturdy stand mixer is highly recommended) combine warm water, yeast, and sugar. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to soften yeast.
With mixer running on low and using a dough hook, gradually add flour and salt. Once combined, add olive oil.
Knead by machine for 5 minutes, or by hand on lightly floured surface for 7 minutes. Dough should be smooth and buttery, not sticky.
Place dough in greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled - about 1 hour in a warm kitchen.
Heat oven to 375 F.
Punch down dough. Divide in half. Return one half to the bowl and cover to rise again. Place the other half on a lightly floured surface and roll out approximately 16 inches by 13 inches.
Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut 8 long strips, about ⅓-inch wide. Turn prepared bowl upside down on a baking sheet and place one strip across the bowl, letting it drape down both sides to the baking sheet, leaving at least 1 inch extra at the bottom. Cut off any extra. (Keep scraps under plastic wrap to use later.) Repeat with the other 7 pieces, keeping them evenly spaced. I find it's easiest to start with one horizontal, then one vertical, and then fill in the gaps.
Cut 7 more strips. (Hint: If the long strips are too awkward to work with, cut them in half. You can hide a jointed piece under any vertical strip.) Lifting every other piece, weave the dough strip under and over the vertical strips at the top of the bowl. (Which is actually the bottom of the bowl, right? So confusing.) Add another ring, then press them down firmly. Once baked, this will be where it sits, so it needs to be firm and flat.
Continue down the side of the bowl. Try not to stretch the dough.
When you get to the bottom, Fold the vertical strips over the bottom ring and pinch firmly. (Some will go up and over, some with go under. Use your thumb to press around the bottom, at each vertical strip and in the space between.
To make roses, cut strips 4-5 inches long and roll up, pinching to thin dough as you go. Press firmly onto basket. Cut out and add other flowers and leaves using small cutters. (Remember to point the leaves down, because it will be flipped over when it's baked.) Paint with a little heavy cream colored with food coloring.
Bake for approximately 15-17 minutes, until it begins to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit until almost cool. Gently pull pan and foil away from basket.
HANDLE: Twist two ½-inch wide strips of dough together. Place over upside down bowl and trim at the bottom, tucking the ends under the bowl. Place on baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes, until it starts to turn golden. Remove and let cool.
ROLLS: Increase temperature of oven to 400 F.
Punch down remaining dough. Cut into equal-size pieces (about 2 ounces each) and shape into balls. Use the scraps to make more rolls. Place 1 inch apart on parchment covered baking sheets and let rise for 30 minutes. Cut an "X" into the top of each and bake until tops are golden - about 15-17 minutes.
Handle can be attached with toothpicks, or simply set into the basket, supported by the rolls.
Place dough in greased bowl. Let it rise until doubled.
Fat and sassy! It took an hour to rise in my (very) warm kitchen. If your place is cooler, it could take longer.
I rolled mine long and skinny. Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s about 1/4-inch thick.
Lay 8 strips across bowl, evenly spaced. Leave at least 1 inch at the bottom. (Use more if you want a tighter weave.)
Weave the first strip, over and under. Pinch together where they meet.
2nd strip. Press down with hand before working your way down the bowl. The basket will sit on this, so make it nice and flat!
Fold extra dough (trimming if necessary) over bottom ring.
After folding ends over bottom ring, press around the bottom edge at junction of horizontal and vertical pieces and once in between each vertical piece. Just makes it purty.
Cut flowers and leaves using cookie or gum paste cutters, or press dough into fondant molds
Roll strips of dough to create roses.
Press decorations firmly onto basket. Paint with heavy cream and food coloring.
After basket is baked and removed from bowl, twist two pieces of dough together and lay across bowl, tucking ends under to hold in place. Bake. This is the handle. (Totally optional.)
I added some little dove rolls and decorated “egg” rolls to this basket. The egg rolls were uncooperative. Maybe a different bread dough would be better. The doves were fun and sweet. But that’s a blog for another day.
The world is going crazy right now, but I wish you a blessed Easter. For the record, baking is supposed to be very calming to the spirit. I recommend it highly!
Kulich, a traditional Russian Easter bread, is a tall column of buttery, slightly sweet bread filled with fruit. The texture is feathery, not soft like a cinnamon roll. Lightly spiced, with a hint of orange (and if you choose, a touch of cognac, brandy, or rum), this recipe is certain to become a family favorite.
In Russia, the kulich is taken to church to be blessed after the Easter service; it’s that important! Some believe the iced, domed top is supposed to represent a snow-covered orthodox church. (It snowed a lot on my kulich. I may have gotten carried away with the icing this time.) It’s also traditionally decorated with flowers on top, which is a stunning presentation for Easter.
Have you ever eaten Panettone? Kulich is very similar. Some people like to add chopped almonds, but I prefer to just use fruit.
I bought paper panettone molds—which made the whole process so much easier. There are very nice nonstick molds available too. They’re on my wish list! You can also use coffee cans that are lined with buttered parchment.
This will take a while to make, but requires very little hands-on effort. It’s a rich dough and rises three times, with a total of six to ten hours of rise time. Plan to hang around the the house the day before Easter so you can monitor the dough as it progresses from sponge to dough to masterpiece. While it’s doing its thing you can dye eggs, eat chocolates, run to the store, and go about your business.
Start this project in the morning. The bread is very slow to rise! Makes two tall loaves or three shorter loaves.
1 cup very warm milk
1 tablespoon sugar
2 packages active-dry yeast
2 cups bread flour
1 cup raisins
½ cup currants or chopped dried fruit
⅓ cup cognac (or brandy, rum, or orange juice)
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup butter, melted
Zest from one orange
¼ teaspoon cardamom
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups bread flour (a little more if necessary)
½ cup candied citrus peel, chopped
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoon orange or lemon juice
Milk to thin the frosting if necessary
In a large bowl (a stand mixer is recommended), combine the warm milk and sugar. Add the yeast and let it sit for 2–3 minutes. Add the egg and mix well.
Add 1 cup of the flour and beat for 1 minute. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of flour over the yeast mixture. Do not stir! Cover and let the sponge sit for 2–3 hours. The yeast mixture will rise and cover most of the flour.
While the sponge is rising, combine the raisins, dried fruit, and alcohol (or orange juice) in a small bowl. Cover.
When the sponge has risen (expect to see pockets of flour) add the eggs and egg yolks to the sponge and mix well.
Add sugar and mix well.
Add the melted butter gradually, until completely incorporated.Switch to a dough hook if you're using a stand mixer.
Add the orange zest, cardamom, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and 2 cups flour. Mix well.
Gradually add remaining cup of flour.
Drain alcohol from raisins. (Don't waste it - it's wonderful in coffee!) Add drained raisins and candied citrus to dough.
Knead by machine for 5 minutes (or by hand 7-8 minutes). Dough should come cleanly away from the sides of the bowl, but should still be soft and slightly sticky. If it is too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
Place dough in greased bowl and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled. This will take several hours.
If you are not using disposable panettone molds, prepare pans. Line the bottoms and sides of two or three (depending on the height you want) 1-pound coffee cans with buttered parchment paper. You can also use large ramekins, with heavy foil wrapped around the outside to add height.
Place molds on a baking sheet. Divide dough in half for two taller loaves, or into thirds for three shorter ones. Form into smooth balls and place into prepared molds. Press gently with fingers to flatten the tops slightly; this will keep them nice and even when they bake. Cover and allow to rise until the dough gets close to the top of the molds. This can take 3-5 hours!
Heat oven to 350 F.
Cover molds lightly with foil and bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the dough comes out clean. Remove foil if a darker top is desired. Depending on the size of your pans, baking time can be 45–60 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Lay them on their side on the rack for 10–15 minutes, rolling gently every few minutes. Slide kulich out of the cans or molds and cool on the rack, rolling once or twice to avoid flat sides.
When cool, combine the powdered sugar, lemon or orange juice, and enough milk to make a frosting that will ooze slowly over the sides of the kulich when the top is frosted. Frost the tops and decorate with flowers, nuts, raisins, or sprinkles.
These crisp chocolate shortbread nests are filled with ganache and pretty blue eggs, a perfect treat to place by each plate on your Easter table.
You’ll be surprised by how easy and fun these are to make—a great project for the whole family. They’re a little fragile after they’ve been baked, so if your littles are . . . well . . . little, you may want to supervise the filling and egg placement. To make the process even easier, you can always use canned frosting instead of making ganache.
6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (I used mini-chips)
Small candy eggs
In a large bowl (a stand mixture is recommended) beat the butter, shortening, and powdered sugar together until creamy.
Add egg yolk and coffee (or milk) and mix well.
Add flour, cocoa powder, salt, and cornstarch. Beat well. Be patient - it may take a few minutes before the mixture comes together.
Divide into two parts and chill for 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 F.
Lightly spray mini cupcake pan with baking spray (an oil/flour mixture).
On floured surface roll half of the dough out approximately ⅛-inch thick. To keep the cookies similar in size, cut out 3-inch rounds (or squares). Using a thin spatula or bench scraper, chop one piece into thin strips. Lift the strips into a cavity of prepared pan, loosely surrounding the sides. Leave a few stray pieces sticking out of the top. Place a scrap of dough into the bottom of the cup if needed and press gently. Repeat with all of the remaining dough.
Bake approximately 8-9 minutes. Allow cookies to cool for several minutes, then gently lift each out of the pan and place on a cooling rack. Once cooled the cookies should be fairly crisp. If not, add another minute to the remaining cookies.
GANACHE: Heat heavy cream until it's steamy. Remove from heat, add chocolate and let it sit for 3-4 minutes. Stir well.
Add a dollop of ganache to the bottom of each nest and decorate with small candy eggs.
Loosely arrange shortbread strips in prepared cups. Bake!
Hint: Once they’ve cooled a bit, try putting something lightweight but stiff (cardboard, a flexible cutting board, etc.) over the top and then flipping the whole works over. It’s easier than lifting each one out of the pan.
So simple. Even the ganache is easy to make. Hope you’ll try this!
If you’ve been following my blog, you might remember the Deviled Cakes I made a few years ago. They’re still one of my very favorite creations, but unfortunately the egg shaped baking pan is impossible to find now. So I decided to try the same idea with easy shortbread cookie dough.
Finding plastic eggs that open horizontally wasn’t that easy either, but they’re out there!
It wasn’t quite as I envisioned. I had hoped the shortbread dough would be strong enough to hold its shape in the oven with a hole in the middle for jam or ganache.
However, I filled that hole with a solid chocolate egg and baked it flat-side down, and—voilà! The chocolate egg supported the cookie dough and added a fun surprise center. Sweet!
A little white chocolate was spread smoothly on the cookie and topped with yolk-colored buttercream and red sugar sprinkles.
I’m getting this post in just under the wire, with two days until Easter. It was sort of an impromptu decision, which translates into: “I didn’t feel like cleaning house today”. This was much more important, right? If you don’t have time to make them this Easter, they’d be cute for a spring tea or luncheon, too.
¼ teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, increase to ½ teaspoon)
½ cup cornstarch
24 small solid chocolate eggs
½ cup butter, softened
3½ cups powdered sugar
¼ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
You will also need:
Plastic eggs that open horizontally
White chocolate candy melts - about 1 cup
In a large bowl, combine butter and powdered sugar. Beat until light and fluffy.
Add egg yolk and milk, and blend well. (If using a stand mixer, you may want to switch to the dough hook at this point.)
Add the flour, salt, and cornstarch and mix until it turns into a smooth, stiff dough. At first it will seem very crumbly, but it should come together. If it doesn't, add a little milk, a few drops at a time.
Chill dough for 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 F. Cover baking sheet with silpat or parchment.
Lightly grease or spray the inside of one egg half and dip in flour. (The grease will help the flour stick.)
Press chilled dough firmly into egg, level with the top.
Press one unwrapped chocolate egg into widest half of the egg as deep as possible. Using your hand or a knife, level the dough in the egg. It's okay if a little chocolate is showing.
Squeeze the sides and ends gently to release the egg flat side down onto prepared baking sheet. Repeat, placing eggs at least 1 inch apart.
Bake 14-15 minutes, or until the flat side is beginning to turn light golden brown. Allow to cool on the baking sheet on a rack. (If you need to use the pan for the remaining eggs, slide silpat or parchment onto the rack.)
Once eggs are cool, melt white chocolate in the microwave at 15 second increments, stirring often, or in a small pan on lowest heat. Use a knife or offset spatula to spread melted chocolate smoothly on each egg. Run your finger around the top edge for a clean look.
Make buttercream: Beat soft butter until creamy. Slowly add powdered sugar (and a little of the cream if it's too thick to mix), beating well. Add vanilla and remaining cream and beat well until fluffy. Add food coloring. I used mostly yellow, with just a tiny amount of green and orange to achieve an egg yolk color.
Pipe buttercream onto each cookie and sprinkle with red sugar.
This pretty spring confection is a five layer honey spice cake filled with whipped buttercream icing and topped with a layer of marshmallow honey fondant. A cute little beehive is made from leftover cake pieces (removed because I just had to make the cake a hexagon to go with the honeycomb theme) and placed on the top amid icing flowers and leaves and a jellybean honey bee or two.
You’re looking at a lot of time, labor, and ingredients. The butter! Omygosh, the powdered sugar! If this has you shaking your head, don’t stop reading. I’ll give you time-saving options.
The picture doesn’t do it justice; this is a huge cake. I used 10-inch square pans, which hold roughly twice what a standard 9-inch round pan holds. Even after cutting my cake into a hexagon shape, it weighed a ton. Trust me, it’s a thing of beauty, but be prepared to make a lot of icing! (And by this I mean . . . buy extra butter and powdered sugar. Depending on how generous you are, or how many flowers you want to make, you may need another batch.)
Right off the bat I’m going to go into my usual disclaimer: I’m a little bit nutty when it comes to playing with my food. I’m also retired and have a whole lot of free time. If you don’t want to go all the way with this project, here are some ideas for cutting corners:
In the first place, don’t cut corners! I made a hexagon to resemble honeycomb. You can stick to a round or square cake.
Cut the recipe in half and use three 9-inch round pans. (If you only have two pans, use approximately 2 1/2 cups of batter in each of your available pans and bake the cakes. (They won’t take as long to bake, so start checking at 30 minutes.) When they’re done, re-use one of the cake pans with the remaining batter. It will be fine waiting there on the counter for its turn. Don’t try to divide them – just level the tops and go with three thicker layers.
If you choose not to go with a hexagon shape, you won’t have leftover cake for the beehive. Use a big round pastry tip and pipe a buttercream beehive in the middle. Or just decorate with flowers and bees.
Easier yet? Make cupcakes. The fondant can still be rolled out and pressed with bubble wrap for the design, then cut into squares and draped over the cupcakes. An icing beehive on each would look really cute.
Speaking of fondant, you could save time by buying it (in the cake decorating aisle of large stores), but it sure won’t taste as good. Lots of people just peel it off anyhow, so it’s up to you.
Flowers are a lot of fun to create, but they can also be very time consuming. You can buy pre-made decorator flowers, use edible fresh flowers, or even buy wafer paper edible flowers online. (Just type “edible wafer flowers” into your search engine.) See what wafer paper pansies look like here on my Brownies for a Crowd post.
Don’t forget that you can spread this out a bit, too. Make the cakes ahead. Wrap them well and freeze them, or let them chill in the fridge for a day or two. If you’re making flowers, do that ahead of time, piping them onto pieces of waxed paper and freezing them. The bees can be made way ahead. They don’t need any special treatment – just put them up high where they aren’t a temptation to little ones, so they don’t “fly away”.
TO MAKE BEES, use jelly beans – a yellow one for the body and thin slices of either yellow or white for the wings. I used a Wilton edible ink marker for the eyes and stripes, but found that some jellybeans really resisted the color. A little dark chocolate and a very small piping tip might be easier for you. I stuck a pin in the poor bee’s bum for easy handling, and then when he was finished, pulled out the pin and put a tiny strip of black licorice in the hole for a stinger. I melted a little white chocolate in a small dish to use as glue and attached two thin slices to the sides for wings. You will need to hold them in place for a few seconds to let the white chocolate dry.
My little bee factory
The following recipe is for the LARGE spice cake. It’s easy to cut in half if you prefer to go that route. Yes, yes, I know – the recipe goes on and on and on. That’s because it is for the fondant, the cake, and the icing!
This will make a huge cake, using three 10-inch square cake pans. You can also divide the recipe in half and use three 9-inch round pans instead. Make the fondant the day before and leave (covered) on the counter until ready to use.
FONDANT (for best results, make the day before):
14 ounces marshmallow creme (also called "fluff")
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
yellow and orange food coloring, and a small amount of cocoa powder to achieve honey color
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 cup cooking oil (peanut, canola, anything light colored)
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon vanilla
Juice and zest of one large lemon (about 3 tablespoons juice)
12 eggs, separated
3 cups cake flour
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon cardamom (optional)
1½ cup buttermilk
1 cup milk
WHIPPED BUTTERCREAM ICING:
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup shortening
3 pounds powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (clear vanilla for a lighter color)
1 teaspoon banana flavoring (optional - substitute lemon or extra vanilla if preferred)
⅔ cup heavy cream
assorted food coloring
Small bubble wrap
Decorations: flowers, bees (you can find these pre-made in some cake decorating departments, or make them from jelly beans), leaves, sprinkles
FONDANT: In a large bowl, combine the marshmallow cream, honey, and vanilla extract. Add food coloring one drop at a time, and a little cocoa powder, until it is the color of honey. Stir in as much of the powdered sugar as you can.
Lightly coat your work surface with shortening and sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Using greased hands, knead the remaining powdered sugar into the fondant. This may take 10-15 minutes. When finished, the fondant should be fairly stiff and should not stick to your hands. (If it's still sticky, use a little more powdered sugar.) Cover with a bowl on the counter or place in a plastic storage bag. Leave out on the counter until ready to use.
CAKE: Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour (or use an oil/flour spray like Baker's Joy) 3 10-inch square cake pans. (If you don't have 3 pans, bake the cakes in shifts.) Place parchment in the bottom of each pan.
In a large bowl combine oil, butter, sugar, and honey. Beat for 2 minutes.
Add vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest and beat until combined.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl frequently.
In a large bowl or pan, sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the buttermilk and milk.
Beginning with the dry ingredients and ending with the liquid, add ⅓ of each at a time, mixing each time just until incorporated. So . . . ⅓ of the flour mixture, mix. ⅓ of the liquid, mix, repeat until all is combined.
In a large bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks begin to form. Fold gently into the cake batter.
I filled two of the pans a little over half full - about 7 cups of batter in each - (these will each be divided into two layers once cooled) and filled the third pan less than half full - about 4 cups of batter. The third cake will be thinner, and won't be divided - just use it as the top layer.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes (a little less for the thinner cake), or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the cake. Ovens vary - if you see that the cake is browning and pulling slightly away from the sides of the pan, give it the toothpick check!
Allow the cakes to cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then carefully turn them out.
For easiest handling, I really recommend you chill the cakes thoroughly before cutting layers or trimming.
I made a cardboard template of a hexagon and used it to cut the cake before layering it. Save the trimmings in a covered bowl for later if you plan on making a beehive for the top.
Divide each of the two larger cakes into two equal layers. Leave the thin cake as is. A little dome won't hurt with this cake, because the fondant will be draping over it, but you can level it if you'd like.
ICING: In a large bowl, beat the butter well. Add the shortening and beat until thoroughly combined. Beat in the vanilla and banana flavoring. Add powdered sugar slowly. If mixture gets too thick to beat, drizzle in a little of the cream. Scrape sides often, and beat until completely combined.
Slowly add cream, beating at high speed until icing is thick but spreadable. If it is too thick, add a little more cream. If it is too thin, add a little more powdered sugar.
Spread icing between each layer, being careful to bring the icing all the way out to the edge. (Piping a "dam" around the edge is very helpful.)
Cover the entire cake with a very thin coating of icing. This is a crumb coat, which will trap the crumbs and keep the cake looking nicer when you ice it.
Chill for at least one hour, or pop the cake in the freezer for 20-30 minutes.
Spread icing over entire cake. Don't worry too much about making it perfect. If you're using the fondant top, you'll only see the bottom part of the cake. Save about ¼ cup of icing if you are making a beehive for the top.
Roll the fondant out on a greased surface generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. Roll just a little less than ¼ inch thick. Cut a rough circle at least 1 inch bigger all around than the top of the cake. Press entire circle with lightly floured bubble wrap to achieve a honeycomb effect. You can do this with a rolling pin, but I find that I have better control when pressing with my hand.
Using both hands, lift the fondant up and quickly drape over cake. Fondant will stretch! Don't press onto sides of cake - let it hang. Use a pair of scissors to trim around the bottom of the fondant in a slightly uneven design or scallop, leaving the bottom inch or two of the cake showing.
To make the beehive, combine cake scraps with just enough icing to make it hold together when you squeeze it. Form a beehive and drape with a thin piece of fondant. Use fingers to press smoothly. Press a little cocoa in the beehive entrance to give it some depth. Set on cake.
If you’ve always longed to make a gingerbread house but couldn’t find time during the winter holidays, this is your chance to shine! Orange flavored sugar cookie dough is rolled and cut into six pieces, glued together with royal icing, and decorated to your heart’s content. Use your creation as a centerpiece instead of lilies; it’ll produce smiles rather than sneezes.
Here’s the back side of the house:
I’ve actually made two of these bad boys this year, trying out different sizes, shapes, and ideas. Here’s the one I made for a feature titled Super Sides in the Spokesman Review, a Spokane daily newspaper. It was a little more elaborate, with cookie fencing and a white chocolate conveyor belt carrying white eggs into the house and colored eggs back out for the bunnies to load into baskets. I had a blast making it (and “testing” the candy for freshness).
Created for The Spokesman-Review
I changed the dough a little bit for this house. Originally I used shortening for a more stable dough. For this version I substituted a little butter for part of the shortening and removed part of the leavening, and it worked just as well. The odds are no one will actually eat the house, but just in case, I also added some orange juice concentrate for more flavor.
And, yeah . . . it’s a little wonky. And I forgot to put the doors in before I set the roof, so one of them may be leaning a bit. But it has character, right? Charm. Kind of like a little Hobbit house.
I added some chickens to my yard. I cut them from leftover dough and painted them with melted candy melts.
Close up of the side yard, with chicken and nests.
If you make one of these, I’d sure love to see a photo of it! Just post it on my Rowdy Baker Facebook Page or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to see what you come up with.
There was no way I could stuff all the instructions and ideas into one recipe, so I’ll add some tips below. And . . . here are my templates. You can see that the front and back pieces are angled to be wider on the bottom. I gave the measurement from the corner where the side meets the angle for the peak. That’s where your sides will go (on the back of the piece, of course) so you can angle it out as much as you want from that point.
Front and back. Cut 2! (It’s 6 inches from the bottom left corner to the bottom right corner.)
Yeah, yeah, I know the window isn’t centered. We’ve discussed my issues with spacial concepts before, and I assure you there has been no improvement. While I’m confessing my problem, I’ll confide that this house was supposed to be bigger at the top and smaller at the bottom, Like a Dr. Seuss house, but I somehow measured the roof for the wrong end. Sigh. I like it this way, so it wasn’t a total loss. Besides, it’s probably a lot more sturdy this way.
Makes enough dough for a house and fence if you are so inclined. Or you can simply roll it out, cut it into desired shapes, dust the cookies with colored sugar, and bake!
½ cup shortening
¼ cup butter
1½ cups sugar
⅔ cup milk
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate (yep - straight from the can)
1 teaspoon vanilla
4½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 cups powdered sugar
5 tablespoons meringue powder
8 tablespoons warm water
Cut house templates out of card stock or heavy paper. Cut out windows and doors.
Heat oven to 325 F.
In a large bowl (stand mixer is best), beat shortening, butter, and sugar for 1 minute.
Add egg, milk, frozen orange juice concentrate, and vanilla, and beat well.
Add flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until combined. Dough will be stiff.
Working with ⅓ of the dough at a time, roll out on lightly floured parchment paper, about ¼-inch thick.
The parchment sheet will be slid onto a baking sheet with the pieces you have cut out, so plan accordingly. You should be able to fit three pieces on the sheet at a time. Using a sharp knife, cut out the shapes, leaving at least 1 inch between them. Lift off scraps and slide the parchment with the cutouts onto a baking sheet. Cut shapes for windows and doors, but don’t remove the pieces; they will help hold the shape during baking. Once the pieces are baked you can re-cut and remove them. Save the doors to use in the house, cut the upper shutters apart and save. The window pieces on the side walls are scrapped. (Set all scraps aside and re-roll last, if needed.)
Bake approximately 15 minutes, or until the edges are beginning to turn golden brown. Remove from oven. Hold your template over the pieces. If they have spread, take a sharp knife and trim them to size. Allow to cool on rack. Repeat with the remaining pieces. If any pieces feel soft after cooling, put them back in the oven for a few minutes. They must be very firm.
If you are making fences, cut the long parallel support pieces and short vertical fence pieces. Don’t put them together before baking or the fence posts will droop between the support pieces. Bake them separately and put them together with royal icing after they cool.
MAKE ROYAL ICING: In a large bowl, combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Gradually add water until it is very thick and creamy. Add additional water if necessary, ¼ teaspoon at a time. Beat for at least 5 minutes. Mixture should make stiff peaks. Transfer 1 cup of icing to a small pastry bag or storage bag with the tip snipped off. This will be used to glue your house together. Small amounts can be colored for flowers and other decorations. Color the remaining icing green. Keep royal icing covered when not using or it will dry out quickly.
You may want to decorate your outside walls and roof before construction. It’s easier to do this on a flat surface! Use a small amount of royal icing to attach candy and decorations and allow them to dry. Flat candy wafers or sour strips make great roof tiles. Add shutters to the upper windows. For easy window boxes, pipe melted chocolate along the bottom of the side windows. Set carrots made from candy melts (or little candy flowers) along the edge and then cover with a little more chocolate, letting the tops peep out. Let dry thoroughly.
The walls will go up first. Pipe a generous amount of icing along the short edges of one side piece. Using heavy cans to brace the structure as you go, connect a side piece to the front piece. Because the front and back pieces curve instead of creating a 90-degree angle, the side pieces will fit slightly inside inside, so the front and back will stick out a little on each side. Add the back piece and the other side. Make sure your house is straight, and then let it dry overnight.
Spread green icing on a sturdy cake board. Carefully pick up your house and place it on the icing. If you have extra icing, save it for grass and bushes.
Place your doors now, if you're having them open into the house. Add a little icing to the "hinge" side for extra stability. Add bunnies looking out the windows if you wish.
Pipe a generous amount of white icing along the top edges of the house – on the sides and the roof pitch.
Place one roof piece on the house and carefully stick two pins through the roof into the house, almost at the tip of the pitch, one at the front of the house, one at the back. Repeat with the other roof piece. You can add a couple of pins along the roof line if necessary, pinning one side to the other. Count how many pins you use so you're sure to remove them all at the end!
If you are adding a fence, do so now while the green icing is still soft.
While the roof is drying, you can decorate the yard. Add vines, grass, bushes, and flowers using colored royal icing. Crush chocolate cookies for a garden bed. Build a fence using cookie dough or a row of marshmallow bunnies. Set a chocolate bunny by the front door. Add nests using crushed shredded wheat, baked cookie dough, icing, or edible Easter grass and fill them with candy eggs or jelly beans. Make a walkway out of candy rocks or flat candy (like Smarties or Pez).
Once the roof feels solid, (several hours) PULL OUT THE PINS. Count them to make sure you have them all, and then enjoy your masterpiece.
Use templates to cut out shapes. Don’t remove windows and doors until the house is baked.
Slide parchment onto baking sheet and bake 15 minutes.
Attach tiles to the roof. (These are sour strips, but pastel candy wafers are nice too.)
Cans hold the house together while it dries.
An offset spatula would work beautifully, but I went with this handy putty-knife-thingy
Setting the roof.
See the pin? That will help hold the roof on until the icing has a chance to harden.
Yes, I could have brought the “tiles” to the roof peak. If I had more. If someone hadn’t eaten them.
OK, fine. I’ll admit it. It was I who ate them. I did. I LOVE sour candy. Meh. Jelly beans are cute anyhow.
There will be plenty of dough for the house, with enough left over to play with. Make a small picket fence, and glue it together when you put your house together so it has a chance to dry. Place it on the soft green icing when your house is placed. Or make little chickens (see the photo above), baskets, nests. Maybe a mailbox with “E. Bunny” on it.
Make sure the cookie pieces are thoroughly baked. If they feel soft after they’ve cooled, put them back in the oven for a few minutes.
I made curtains from white chocolate for one of the windows. It was tricky, but cute. I spread a little melted chocolate on a piece of plastic wrap and then laid it over a few skewers to get a rippled effect. Once it hardened, a piece was attached to each side (inside of the window) with royal icing.
Space out your roofing as much as possible without seeing gaping holes. That stuff gets heavy fast.
Candy melts (melted, of course) painted on the doors and shutters with a pastry brush will look like wood grain.
I couldn’t find edible Easter grass this year, but if you can get your hands on some, it would look great chopped up and sprinkled over the green icing.
I gave this house to the gal that cuts my hair. Someone there asked me what I charged for them, and I told her that I didn’t sell them. There is way too much time and fussing and swearing to make it anything but a labor of love. The thing is, though, once you make one the next one is much easier. And . . . I guess if you make a few for family and friends, there won’t be quite so much leftover Easter candy to *ahem* dispose of. Your call.
About the size of a large doughnut hole, though not as sweet, these miniature hot cross buns will look great in a basket on your Easter table. The dough is filled with raisins or currants, spices, and saffron (if you choose to add it). The taste can be a surprise, because our eyes see the icing design on top and our brain assumes that the buns themselves will be sugary, like cinnamon rolls . . . or doughnuts. They aren’t. The bread is like a slightly sweet dinner roll, though those little bits of fruit inside do add a sweet surprise with each bite.
With regular hot cross buns there’s a higher bread-to-icing ratio, so I usually slather mine with butter or jam, but these little ones don’t need to be gussied up like that. Just two bites (unless you’re my husband, in which case, they are popped into his mouth whole) and you’re reaching for the next one. See? You’ve just saved all of those pesky butter and jam calories, so you can eat more mini buns!
A few years ago I made hot cross buns for a Yummy Northwest Easter column, using a very old and challenging recipe. It was an experience. If you’d like to see what happens when I have kitchen fail after kitchen fail, by all means go read the archived article: Old Fashioned Easter. Scroll down; the link to the recipe is right under the photo of Hot Cross Buns.
I added saffron to this recipe because it’s a traditional spice used to symbolize something or other (sunshine, spring, happy stuff) and because I happened to have a bottle of it languishing in the pantry. If you have some, add a few strands – but don’t overdo it, because the sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg should predominate.
You don’t have to mark the tops of the raised buns. You can just bake them as they are and use the icing alone to create the crosses. If you want to cut the design in the top before baking, make sure you use a very sharp blade so the puffy little buns don’t get smooshed.
If you like lots of fruit in your rolls, add more raisins or throw in a handful of chopped apricots or dried cherries.
Makes 60 mini buns Hot cross buns are slightly sweet and lightly spiced. Saffron is a traditional addition, but the buns are delicious without it, too.
⅔ cup milk
small pinch saffron - OPTIONAL!
½ cup raisins
½ cup butter, cut into large chunks
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 cup very warm water
1 package active-dry yeast
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ginger
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon allspice
4½ cups bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons water (or use fresh lemon juice for some "zing")
In small saucepan, heat milk and saffron (if using it) until bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Remove from heat and, using a strainer if you added saffron, pour into a large bowl. A stand mixer is best. Add raisins, butter, and ¼ cup sugar, stirring briefly. Butter will soften, but don't worry if it isn't completely melted.
In a small bowl, combine warm water with remaining 1 teaspoon sugar. Add yeast and allow mixture to sit until foamy - about 5 minutes.
Add yeast mixture, egg, and spices to the milk mixture and beat until combined.
Add flour and salt. Switch to dough hook if using a stand mixer, and knead by machine for 5 minutes. If kneading by hand, drop dough onto lightly floured surface and knead 7-8 minutes. Dough should be soft but not sticky.
Place dough in greased bowl, cover, and let rise until double, about 1 hour.
On lightly floured surface, punch down dough. Divide into 60 equal pieces and roll into balls. The easiest way to do this is to work on an unfloured surface. Form a ball by bringing the sides to the top, like an Asian dumpling, and then turning the ball over and pulling it towards you, scooching it along the surface.
Place balls at least ½-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets, cover, and allow to rise until almost double, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 375 F
Combine powdered sugar, vanilla, pinch of salt, and water (or lemon juice) in a small bowl. Mix well. (Hint: for a firmer icing, add ½ teaspoon meringue powder.) Remove 2 tablespoons of icing and place in a small cup. Add water to the small cup a few drops at a time until it is a very thin consistency. This will be brushed over hot rolls to add a thin, shiny coating. Place remaining icing in a heavy plastic bag with one tip cut off, or in a pastry bag with small writing tip.
With a very sharp knife or razor blade, cut a cross shape on top of each bun, if desired. Bake mini buns for 12-14 minutes, or until the tops are rich golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately brush with a light layer of the thinned glaze. Allow to cool on a rack.
Pipe a cross on each bun with icing (fill in the design if you cut the buns before baking) and allow to dry thoroughly before storing.
Add a small pinch of saffron to milk if desired. (I may have gone a little crazy here. Don’t use quite that much unless you love the taste of saffron!)
Heat milk until bubbles appear all around the edge of the pan. (Don’t forget to strain out the saffron.)
Isn’t this beautiful, soft dough?
Cut dough into 60 equal pieces. (Mrs. OCD here can tell you that I had 60 20-gram balls of dough. Yes, I weighed them. No, you don’t have to.)
Roll into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet to rise.
After balls rise, cut an X in them with a very sharp knife or razor blade if desired. (Or you can skip this step and just make the X with the icing after they’re baked.)
Brush with thin glaze while hot, and then pipe on the cross after they cool.
They don’t have to be for Easter, of course. Skip the icing and split these little sweethearts in half. Spread with lemon curd, honey butter, or flavored cream cheese for a luncheon or party. And . . . hide a few for yourself!
If you see chocolate covered raisins and grated carrot peeking out of the cookies on my brunch table, you’ll know the Easter Bunny has left a little surprise on his way through the kitchen!
He can’t help it; bunnies are like that. I had a litter-box trained rabbit once, but he still left a few droppings on the way to and from the box. More than you wanted to know, right?
These cookies are very light and cake-like, not crunchy. I like mine just bursting with goodies, so I add a handful of toasted pecans to the dough too for a little extra flavor and crunch. You could also add a small can of crushed pineapple with the juice thoroughly pressed out.
You don’t really have to glaze them, but they’re so appealing with that thin coat of icing that I couldn’t resist.
These are about as easy as cookies get. Make lots and lots; they’ll go quickly!